I believe most leaders know what’s right. They know they have an inner voice that consistently points them in the right direction. They just don’t always listen to that voice.
Why do we tune out that inner voice? Why do other considerations sway us? Quite frankly, when things aren’t right, I find it’s because we’re focused on money first, and people second — or not at all.
THE “BOTTOM LINE” DISCONNECT
Here’s the disconnect I see all the time. If we’re focused 100% on the bottom line … and we’re not focused on the values that drive our business and support all of the people our business touches … then there is going to be a problem.
Please don’t misunderstand me. I believe you should have as robust a bottom line as you can possibly have. But I also believe the very best way to get there is through your people. And when you focus on values that support people first and see all people as equal, what happens is you create an army of individuals who will focus on the bottom line with you … and deliver financial results you could never possibly have generated without identifying and upholding values that support your people.
The key is leadership thinking about the people first, and doing what you know to be right for all the individuals with whom you and your enterprise come in contact.
A FAILURE OF LEADERSHIP
Let’s look at an example that virtually everyone can relate to: Maybe customer service is a major problem for a certain company. Maybe there’s a lot of news coverage of a particular incident where a customer wasn’t well treated by that company. Maybe there’s a video that’s gone viral. Suddenly the company is in crisis. We’ve all seen this.
What usually happens? Well, management sends out a message to the world that says, basically, “Hey, we had a problem, but we know that treating customers with respect is the right thing to do, and it is an important value within our company. We’re going to do X, Y, and Z to improve.”
Nine times out of ten, though, what’s just gone viral is a symptom of a major problem within the organization: treating customers with respect isn’t yet a value that’s consistently observed within the organization.
Why is that? Simple. Treating employees with respect isn’t yet a value that’s consistently observed within the organization. That’s why customer service is a problem!
Maybe “respect” shows up as a word on a piece of paper, or in a company brochure, but it’s not guiding anyone’s decisions, and it hasn’t shown up as the compass point for deciding what to do in any given situation. That’s a failure of leadership, one that affects the way people are treated internally by their colleagues.
So: The internal culture at that company is not reflective of the value “we take care of people and we treat people with respect.” There’s a problem rooted in a values disconnect. That’s what the customers are experiencing, that disconnect. That’s why the video of the terrible customer service incident exists in the first place: the actual culture isn’t yet based on doing what’s right!
WHY VALUES MATTER
Make no mistake: Values matter deeply to the bottom line. In the example I’ve just shared with you, they matter because customer service matters deeply to the bottom line.
Think about it. It’s just not realistic to expect your people to treat customers better than they are being treated themselves. In fact, it’s impossible. If you want your people to treat your customers and clients at an incredibly high level, guess what? You have to treat the people inside the organization at that level or better! That has to be one of your stated organizational values: Treating people with full respect and taking good care of them when there’s a problem. That value has to be demonstrated from the top!
Leaders make bad decisions because they’re not connecting back to their values. Leadership is either letting their ego or their wallet influence the decisions. And that’s a recipe for disaster.
Our values have to guide us as we tackle the question, “What’s the right thing to do here?” That should be a question that everyone in the organization poses, every day, every time we have to make a judgment call. The answer that comes back must be defined by the consciously chosen, consciously upheld values that serve as the compass points for our decisions.
Our values must be consistent regardless of the situation. That means they must take ego and money out of the decision-making process. The rightness or wrongness of any decision has to be decided by our values. Decisions can’t be defined by ego, self, or impact on bottom line. If you’re making the decision based solely on the bottom line, rest assured: it’s not the right decision, and you’re going to regret it at some point.
Leadership must do what is right if they want their people to do what is right. Right is always right! The very best decision for your business will always line up best with your values. So define those values up front and define them well. Understand them and teach them and live them. Make sure your people are making decisions, day in and day out, based on those values. It’s only when you waver from the right values, only when you choose to ignore that inner voice, that you’re going to make bad decisions and get your organization in trouble.